Man has a vital stake in the ocean reefs. Protecting them means protecting himself, notes an expert.
Since ecosystems help to support humanity in many ways - with food, clean air and water as well as livelihoods, industries and recreation - keeping them in a condition to continue to support us is vital, points out Professor Sean Connolly from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, Australia.
He says, "As a rule, ecosystems with many species are more stable over time. This is because, as conditions change, the system is more likely to have species that can cope with the new conditions. Having lots of species reduces the likelihood of a major ecological collapse.
"In other words, high biodiversity is nature's insurance policy.
"But it is also our insurance policy, because it protects and assures the many services that ecosystems provide us.
"The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is one of the richest systems of living things on the Planet. Understanding how it became so rich, and how to keep it that way, is essential for its survival - as well as for all our industries and activities that depend upon the Reef," he stresses.
Professor Connolly has received the Australian Academy of Science's prestigious Fenner medal for his pioneering work in understanding how ecosystems develop and maintain their amazing diversity.
He says that the many rare species the GBR contains make the system more robust overall. "If conditions change, then common species may become rare and rare species common - but the system as a whole survives. It's very much on our interest to manage and care for it so this keeps on happening."
Professor Connolly has specialized in linking observations and experiments in marine ecosystems with mathematical models of how populations of different species change and interact over time - and how this drives the dynamics of biodiversity itself, now and in the deep past.
Among his achievements he has produced a model that helped pinpoint a previously unknown impact of ocean acidification caused by high CO2 in the atmosphere - increased loss of coral species due to storm damage.
His work on the geographic ranges of coral species has challenged the
His work on the geographic ranges of coral species has challenged the conventional view that conservation should focus mainly on 'hot spots' of species diversity.
Sean was a co-author of the Townsville Declaration on Coral Reef Research and Management, hailed by The Australian newspaper as "a remarkable example of an increased willingness by governments to heed scientific advice."
He has identified a continued collapse in the populations of reef sharks on the Great Barrier Reef from over-fishing and his work is now helping to improve shark management in Queensland.